Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dedicated to small dreams

I realized recently that most of the new music I listen to these days is what would be called “Contemporary Christian” music. It is not complex, intricate music. It does not have a lot of guitar solos or synthesizers or vocals with impossibly high notes. In all honesty, it’s pretty plain and rather commercial and very approachable for the average pew warmer to sing along on Sunday morning. Which I suspect is the point.

So why do I listen to such banal music? The words.

I could tell the story of the trials of my life over the last decade through songs on my “Church” playlist. Somehow, just the right song enters my life at just the right moment and speaks truth and fuels hope.

A song about letting go when I was struggling to trust the whole God thing.

A song about simply holding my candle when I was at a loss how to respond to a loved one who had disappointed me beyond words.

A song about remembering that hope was right in front of me when I was dizzy with anxiety and confusion and bouncing hormones after a hysterectomy.

A song reminding me to seek God’s will when I was perplexed what my role was when my parents were disagreeing about where to live.

It’s all about the words.

A few weeks ago, a new song started getting some airplay. It resonated immediately. It beautifully captures in toe-tapping pop how I have approached the world and my place in it the last couple of years.

With so much turmoil and angst and hurt and opinions and demands and outrage and offense in our society at the moment, I have found myself withdrawing from the big picture to instead focus on the small. Call it a survival technique.

I’ve written here before about sensing I can have more impact on my micro world than the macro world beyond my sphere. I’ve talked about the positive impact of doing a small thing… a little “x”…which unknowingly is a huge thing…a big “X”…to someone else. I’ve shared my determined search for ways to sprinkle a little encouragement around my world. All little things that have the potential of huge effect, whether we are there to see it or not.

So when “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson blared from my car’s speakers a few weeks ago, I truly felt like I had found my anthem.

You can listen and read the lyrics for yourself; the song is quite catchy. And it is infused with God stuff, like the quintessential Christian pop song that it is. But what I especially appreciate about the song is that it is still entirely relevant even if you take God out of it.

A More Secular Version:
It's a momma singing songs.
It's a daddy spending family time that the world said he cannot afford.
These simple moments change the world.
It's a pastor at a tiny little church, 40 years of loving on the broken and the hurt.
These simple moments change the world
Dream small.
Don't buy the lie you've gotta do it all.
One day at a time.
Live well.
Loving others as yourself.
Find little ways where only you can help.
It's visiting the widow down the street.
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs.
These simple moments change the world.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with bigger dreams.
Just don't miss the minutes on your way to bigger things,
'Cause these simple moments change the world,
Keep loving. Keep serving.
Keep listening. Keep learning.
Keep hoping.
Keep seeking. Keep searching.
Add up the small things and watch them grow bigger.
So dream small.

Admittedly, Josh’s examples of small dreams are a bit contrived. But I am here to tell you they are not trivial. I have benefitted hugely from the small dreams of all sorts of people in my life.

The friends who sent cards when my grandma died.

The friend who texted goofy emojis during a difficult situation.

The stranger who complimented my silver hair on a bad day.

The cashier who looked me in the eye and sincerely wished me a wonderful day.

The customer service agent who apologized immediately for his company’s mistake and took personal responsibility to fix it.

The neighbor kids who made me a cat out of cardboard tubes and construction paper when we had to put our cat down 10 years ago (a little “x” I will remember and appreciate the rest of my life).

The husband who drags hoses all around the yard so I can power wash stuff without hurting my back.

The neighbor who picks up trash along our street.

The teenagers that spent a summer afternoon inside helping me do a photo album project.

The cousin who leans in and gives me her full attention whenever I’m talking to her.

The acupuncturist who gives me a long hug after each appointment.

The doctor who says, “I have time.”

It really doesn’t take a lot to have small dreams. All that's needed is intent, a seeking eye, and some courage to step outside ourselves. I truly do believe that a flood of small dreams can indeed change the world. And lordy, we could use a little of that.

So dream small.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

I'm an introvert and parties are tough

I’ve attended two social celebrations in the last six days. That’s not an insignificant amount of energy, awkward small talk, and “being on” for an introvert. Don’t get me wrong; I quite enjoyed both the retirement party and the wedding. But honestly, all the peopling and “must I mingle?” self-talk was sort of exhausting.

I know today I am supposed to be hanging out with lively Americans, eating cow bits, drinking fermented adult beverages, and waiting for something to catch on fire. But frankly, I’m quite happy sitting alone on our porch watching my partner-in-introversion ride our mower around the pasture in hopes that pyrotechnic-fueled grass fires might flame elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I’m not quite as spent by all the recent socializing as I should be given my history. That’s because I believe I have finally stumbled upon the introvert's #1 Survival Tip for Navigating Parties: Find other introverts, out oneself as an introvert, and discuss introversiony things.

Suggested topics include the relief of finding other introverts to talk with. And how awkward the current situation is. And how awesome cats are. And imminent recharge plans involving pajamas and Netflix. And the brilliance of Susan Cain’s liberating authoratative text called Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking.

I first discovered this socializing secret at the retirement party last week, thanks to a 15-year-old fellow introvert who unabashedly expressed her relief that my presence gave her someone to stand with while enduring the torture of an adult chat party. What refreshing self-awareness and honesty! With that, our conversation was off and running with enthusiasm and commiseration.

Before long, a woman in her 40s joined us, sharing the relief and delight of finding her quiet tribe. The 15-year-old’s mom checked in just as a fifth introvert tried to join us. The fifth-wheel lingered briefly and then voluntarily moved on as we all quickly intuited that we were verging on becoming too large a group for meaningful, quiet conversation. Parties of five are for extroverts.

The new party approach worked splendidly at the wedding, too, even though I truly didn’t consciously put it into action. But before I knew it, I was leaning in close with two quiet friends me-too-ing about being quiet and being ok with it and unapologetically looking forward to unpeopled hotel rooms accessorized with pajamas and books.

It was lovely. Both the conversation and the self-acceptance.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Acceptance once step at a time

Almost to the day, my career in marketing research lasted 12 years. It was supposed to last a lot longer. But I coughed while reaching for a Kleenex and two spinal fusions later, my career…and really any future in the working world…unceremoniously ended at the ripe old age of 34.

I have been officially retired for 16 years. The first 7 or 8 years were a bit bumpy, as my premature exit from the working world was forced on me without my permission. It took quite awhile to reconcile my dreams with my new reality. And to find a purpose that no longer relied on a job title or paycheck. Moving out of the intensely career-focused Bay Area where I no longer fit helped a ton. But acceptance has still been a long, slow, non-linear path.

About a decade ago, I finally realized my fiberglass clamshell back brace could retire, too. And with it, the extraordinarily large, elastic-waisted pants and oversized t-shirts I had been aimlessly wearing.

Without a job or a reason to show up anywhere properly attired, I had gotten lost in the comfort of enormous, shapeless clothes. They were never intended to stay in my closet more than a surgery recovery or two; nevertheless, they became unfashionable, everyday staples.

With some direction, encouragement, and ruthlessness, I finally totally revamped my wardrobe. I bought clothes with color and shape and style that actually fit my body. After a long hiatus, I gratefully felt pulled-together and eager to show up someplace…any place…wearing real clothes.

But I wasn’t quite ready to part with the business suits that had defined my once corporate career. They stayed smushed in the back of the closet, out of sight but not out of mind. Like the jeans from two sizes ago that you aspire to wear again someday, the pantsuits and blouses were tucked away with unspoken hope to revisit a time past.

A couple years later, thanks to an unexpectantly defiant conversation with a Large Government Agency, I had a renewed acceptance of my “never working again” status. I found a charity that provides career clothes for struggling women.

I handed over almost all my corporate gear with hope that it would serve the next owners successfully. I sent a special blessing along with my Super Woman Suit – the fabulous black pant suit that had instantly made me feel strong, confident, powerful, and that I had earned my right to be at the corporate table despite being in my 20s.

Relinquishing that suit was an enormous step in acknowledging my Big Time Career Days were over.

But I kept The Shoes.

Being a frequent shopper at Payless Shoe Source – including the AAA discount – it was a scary step into adulthood when I bought the strappy black pumps at Nordstrom to accompany my new suit. At $69.95 and 24 years old, I had never spent so much on shoes before ($125 in today’s dollars. Thanks Google!). Handing over my credit card, I tried not to calculate how many utility bills I was spending to put fancy pumps on my feet. But the shoes, they were perfect.

It’s hard to imagine how many miles I put on those leather soles. Airports, conference rooms, hotel lobbies, working breakfasts and power lunches. I wore them so much, the inserts got totally thrashed. But the shoes themselves help up beautifully. They molded to my feet like slippers while remaining professional and well-kept. Undeniably a wise purchase by a young woman not yet old enough to rent a car.

I have allowed my hair to revel in its natural state for over a year now. Along the way I have had to adjust lipstick, eye brows, glasses, and clothing to better suit my now silver head. Color can be so tricky…and daunting. It’s been an uneven process, sometimes faced with enthusiastic gusto, other times with slow reticence. The last big step was another revamp of my closet.

I have spent the last week trying to be brutally honest with myself. I have examined each item in my closet with as much objectivity as a middle-aged woman with hips and perimenopausal bulges can muster.

I have tried to ignore the stories behind the dress I wore on my 40th birthday that no longer works with my hair color. And the blouse that I loved to threadbare and appears in so many photos. And the pants I hastily bought when my grandma was dying and I had run out of clean clothes. I have struggled to view each piece as utilitarian, evaluating if it fulfills its purpose NOW to make me feel fashionable and pulled together instead of what it accomplished years ago.

And so today, The Shoes are finally leaving.

I put them on one last time. They feel great…as long as I have nylons on to cushion the torn inserts. They look fantastic despite being 25 years old. They might even still be stylish, if I were trying to look businessy.

But the truth is, my business days are long over. These days I dress up for charity events and milestone birthday parties and funerals and fancy nights out in Portland or on cruise ships. These days, I have shoes that fit my retired, 50-year-old, back-knee-and-plantar-fasciitis-pained, rocking-the-silver-hair self. I have shoes that are a little more edgy and fun and a little less corporate and safe. I have shoes that give me a sense of place in the moment instead of memories of a lifetime ago.

Sixteen years and two closet overhauls later, one lone steel gray blazer from my career days remains in my closet. I pulled it to the front two days ago when I realized it still fits and looks even better now with my silver hair than it did with Garnier Truffle brown.

I have some fantastic suede booties that I got last year that will look amazing with it in the fall.

Good-bye old friends.  You served me well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Being spontaneous is a blast!

Rob and I are not spontaneous people. Especially me. I can only be spontaneous if you give me some warning and I can plan for it.

Rob and I strive to keep our promises. To other people and to ourselves. We take our words and commitments very seriously.

These two factual states of being were in direct conflict last week as Rob and I repeatedly stayed up way too late watching daily videos of the increasingly photogenic volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island.

About 25 years ago, after voluntarily watching several hours of mesmerizing family vacation video of lava slowly building new Hawaiian landscape, Rob and I made a promise to each other. We agreed that the next time Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted, we would be there.

For as long as Rob can remember, he has dreamed of seeing a volcano erupt. He still takes it personally that I saw Mount St. Helens burp just a tiny bit about 14 years ago. I saw it in my rear-view mirror and it was very small, but Rob still holds a grudge. Me, I just like adventure. Preferably with a plan.

Late last Wednesday night, after consulting our schedule and flight options and Rusty the Lava Rooster, we uncharacteristically planned a spontaneous weekend trip to Hawaii to go gawk at Madame Pele’s mad fire skillz. We had less than 36 hours until departure. We got back this morning.

Thanks to doomsday media coverage, it was quite easy to find cheap, last-minute flights to Kona…especially if one is willing to endure the torture of red-eye departures. Similarly, well-priced rental cars and modest lodging were found with just a few internet clicks. Honestly, the entire trip…including the helicopter tour…cost less than rent on our apartment in the early 1990s. I find this information both compelling and dangerous.

As we hurriedly prepared for our adventure, Rob and I agreed this was either going to be the coolest thing we had ever done…or the stupidest. Spoiler alert: COOLEST!!

Nevertheless, we were both quite nervous. Purposely going to an area from which people were reportedly fleeing was admittedly a touch unwise. As such, we were both reluctant to alert our families of our travel plans.

One dad was quite excited for us and said, “I know you will be safe.” Another dad replied, “This better be a joke.” A mom warned that the never-ever-sensationalizing Weather Channel was reporting residents were being issued breathing masks due to harmful air quality and that provisions were running low. Our excitement and anxiety mounted in mostly equal proportions.

Our suitcases were stuffed with all the provisions necessary for your typical Hawaiian get-away:

  • thick-soled – and hopefully lava-friendly – hiking boots
  • flashlights
  • a collapsible cooler for extra water
  • lightweight face masks
  • a pair of professional-grade, multi-purpose air respirators
  • multiple packets of lens wipes to clean all eyeglasses, cameras, and cell phones of any errant ash fall
  • clothes we didn’t mind tossing if Mother Nature ruined them via lava, ash, acid-rain, the Apocalypse, etc.
  • extra clothes for several days in case the airport closed
  • pajamas that would be appropriate if one were to find themselves in an Evacuation Shelter

You might find it surprising that Rob was never a Boy Scout

I tossed in our swim suits at the last minute, mostly because it seemed sacrilegious to travel to Hawaii without them. They returned to Woodhaven dry and unused.

We arrived in Kona at about 1:00pm local time on Friday. Although the sky was cloudy (officially “vog” – volcanic smog), there was no smell to the air or any indication whatsoever that anything dramatic was happening anywhere nearby. Indeed, the erupting volcano was 50 miles away so the hazy air we were seeing was thanks to trade winds.

Actually, I take that back. There was ONE indication that maybe something was up.

Deciding we wanted something cheap and fast for lunch before embarking on our three-hour drive to the other side of the island, we popped into the Kona Costco for a hot dog, slice of pizza, and fruit smoothie.

As we enjoyed our bargain meal, we noticed that at least 75% of the shopping carts were toting brand new air purifiers. Many with more than one. While there might have been an amazing sale, I’m guessing the locals were tired of their gunky air and the national media’s insistence of imminent asphyxiation.

Some carts had 3 or 4 air purifiers.  They were clearly over it.

No shortage of provisions here.  Thanks for the
panic, Weather Channel.

Our motel was in Hilo, about 20 miles from the lava action and 25 miles from the volcano spitting out ash. And yes, that’s probably an important detail to note: there are currently two main areas of geologic interest.

The Kilauea volcano (known locally as Halemaʻumaʻu) is conveniently located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (currently closed due to “increased volcanic activity” – oh the irony). She is releasing energy from her crater in the form of steam and ash.

Kilauea is also the source of the fast-moving, fountaining lava pushing eastward that is making for utterly remarkable videos splattered all over the internet. The lava is spewing out hundreds of feet high along fissures that are increasing in number every day (last count as of this typing is Fissure 22).

These fissures are 25 miles east of the crater in neighborhoods in a small community called the Puna District. Those neighborhoods are now officially considered a Natural Disaster Area and are off-limits to anyone who isn’t a resident, military, or first-responder. Many road-blocks are in place. Trust me. We found ‘em all. In related news, Hawaiian police are quite friendly.

Our motel was a perfect home-base. It was quiet, comfortable, friendly, and oddly populated mostly by locals. I was really confused at first, thinking how interesting it was that these large Hawaiian families all vacation together and tote in tubs of rice and vegetables and fruit to their rooms. They all seemed quite at home at the motel while also not really giving off a “we’re on vacation!” vibe.

Rob finally flicked on the switch for the light bulb in my brain. These families staying with us were not on vacation; they had been evacuated. We tried to give them as much space and respect and loving smiles as possible.

We spent all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in three places: Hilo; the lava area (especially the town of Pāhoa); and the ash area…particularly the town of Volcano and the golf course which was the site of this viral photo.

Photo credit:  Mario Tama for Getty Images

Note:  This is absolutely not Photoshopped.  We actually met the guy
standing to the left of the golfer.  He said the photographer
was lying on the ground to get this perspective.  Apparently lots of
friends on the mainland contacted him, asking if he was the guy in the photo.
He told everyone he was not that guy...because he didn't want
to hear them all tell him how nuts he was for just standing there while
a volcano erupted behind him. Seems legit.

We put a lot of miles on our rental car while covering a rather small area. Without a plan of any sort -- other than to see what we could see -- we relied heavily on Google Maps and a sense of adventure to guide each day’s scouting. And yes, we definitely “drove it like it’s a rental” a few times. Oops.

We found favorite spots quickly. The Pāhoa Transfer Station, which was almost attacked by lava in 2014, was the highest elevation point we could climb to. We scrambled up on the porous lava field in rain, shine, daylight, and soft evening lava glow hoping to spot the tops of lava fountains. We never quite saw what we hoped to see, but we did come across a number of locals who had the same idea.

Lava flow from 2014.  It oozed out the fence and almost
took out the transfer station just to the right of this photo.
Watch this fantastic 6 minute video to see this
lava flow in action (click here)

Day time glow and chemical clouds from the transfer station

Night time glow from the same spot (more or less)

The first night, we found our way into a neighborhood called Nanawale Estates. It was the closest neighborhood we could get to near the lava flow. We went poking around the ramshackle homes nestled in the jungle, hoping to find a clearing in the trees to spot a fountain.

Although the fountains were not visible, the glow from them definitely was.

We parked on a gravel road and got out of the car. The air was warm and moist, the sky behind us pitch black. The sky in front of us was otherworldly. The center – which changed shape as the obscured lava below it bubbled and spewed – was a hot, bright orange with more red than yellow. Radiating from the center were shades of reddish orange and orangish purple. There were magentas and red-violets and colors like the pulp of a pink grapefruit. The lava glow was essentially that whole red-purple-inching-towards-orange section of the chromatically arranged Crayon box.

My best attempt at capturing the colors.  My camera...and
its operator...are a bit limited.

The lava palette in the sky was accompanied by a sci-fi symphony. With mere seconds between them, the earth in front of us was speaking with groans and rumbles and explosions. The explosions were methane gas and they were startling each time. The rumbles sounded like jet engines, but more like fighter jets and less like commercial airliners. The rumbles were higher-pitched with more force and less girth if that makes any sense. I’m guessing the rumbles were the sounds of the lava rivers as well as the lava hitting the earth’s floor after fountaining. There was also a forceful, concentrated wind sound, like the air dryers in a car wash. I decided that sound was Madame Pele’s breath forcing the lava out of the earth’s inner core and into fountains.

In the most eerie and soothing way, the volcanic sounds had a constant back-up chorus of frogs. Tiny tree frogs called coqui frogs because of the high-pitched “ko-kee” sound they make. Hawaii has declared them an invasive species, so apparently they are everywhere even though we could only hear them and never saw any. Their cheerful whistles created such an incongruous, perfectly “Jurassic Park” contrast to the volcanic explosions. Their happy chirps bought me peace as I tried to envision the raw, liquid power and heat beyond the trees.

Rob and I stood there in the glowing, explosive, frogged jungle for not nearly long enough. But I quickly knew it was a moment I would always remember. It was magical and eerie and utterly unfamiliar to hear the earth speak…and in such a variety of languages.

Cellphone-quality audio of the earth talking

Another favorite spot was the check point at the intersection of Highway 132 and Pohoiki Road just above Leilani Estates. That is the neighborhood with so many fissures and incredible lava videos from residents.

This check point was the closest we could get to the lava.

On Saturday night, we and just a couple other cars parked along the side of the road and stood outside, reverently watching the glow, listening to the symphony, and hoping for a glimpse of a fountain top.

The few of us who spoke did so in whispers. There was a respect and awe for what we were witnessing and experiencing that absolutely commanded silence.

We were on a tree-covered ridge and the lava was a couple hundred feet below us. Rob and I convinced ourselves we saw the tiniest specks of lava fountaining in the tiniest holes in the trees. Looking back, we were right.

The bright spot light at the check point added a very
odd and surreal quality to the light and experience

Not to mention it was fun to take photos using
its light to silhouette stuff

We returned to The Check Point several times throughout our visit. We wanted to see what it was like in the day time. Not nearly as magical. We could see the slightest pinkish orangish yellowish tinge to the clouds, but that could have been chemicals as much as lava reflection. Much like Las Vegas, the excitement of a lava flow happens at night.

I hardly recognized the road in the day light.  It was so
magical at night and so strangely ordinary during the day.

After scouting it out during the day, we returned to Lava Tree State Monument at night and scrambled up on some tall curbs to see if we could see any fountains. No luck. But the glow-lit Albizia trees provided some interesting photos, and we also met a nice woman and son who live in the Nanawale neighborhood we had been lurking in. We commiserated about the Transfer Station and said we might see them there later after we did our rounds at The Check Point.

The friendly locals identified the trees for us.  I loved seeing
them silhouetted by the lava glow.

Night time selfies with a digital camera by lava glow
are very challenging...and kind of spooky.

Sunday night at The Check Point was a zoo. Either word had gotten out or just more people were lava-touring. Regardless, there were cars lined up all along the narrow road just short of the police block. The chatter was a little louder, with more kids and larger families. Some people were sitting on their truck cabs trying to get just a little more elevation. Completely distracted, people unknowingly wandered into the two-lane road, resulting in a few honks from understandably frustrated residents who were just trying to get in and out of their personal natural disaster.

But we were all gathered for a reason. We could finally see the lava fountains. It was incredible.

I wasn't able to get a photo of the lava fountains, but they were
in the brightest part of this photo at the top of the bushes
to the left of the arrow sign in the middle.

We don’t know whether the lava had built up the ground to provide a higher launch pad, or if the fountains were spewing with more force. All we know is that we could finally, undeniably see the tops of lava shooting up in bright yellowish orange streams and cascading down in reddish glowing chunks.

The light from the lava sparked like fireworks or hot embers popping in a fireplace. It was those sparks that we had seen glimpses of the night before. The liquid danced with a weight thicker than water. It sort of looked like what might happen if you sat a bottle of really good (thick) maple syrup on a table and gave it a sudden squeeze to see how high you could get the syrup to go.

We could have stayed there for hours watching the lava dance above and among the Albizias…and I’m quite sure we would have…except I started to sense it was time to leave. I began to notice just the slightest tickle in the back of my throat. The skin on my arms started to itch and tingle just a tiny bit. My Little Voice that has warned me of numerous dangers in the past told me, “Now would be a good time to leave.”

I whispered to Rob, “I’m going to trust this. It’s time to leave.” He agreed that the wind had shifted just a little bit and although we couldn’t smell anything, the chemical-laden steam clouds above us were indeed inching our direction.

We walked just a little closer to take one last look. I noticed the police officer was prepared with a gas mask. That was new; he didn’t have that the night before. It’s quite possible that we would have been told to leave soon anyway. But that was OK. We knew we still had Monday.

Except that we didn’t.

When we returned to The Check Point on Monday morning, it had been moved. It was now farther up the road. We could no longer see anything except the lava glow. We no longer had access to Lava Tree Monument. We could no longer skulk about in Nanawale Estates.

Whether the looky-loos were getting out of hand (totally likely) or the fissures and lava were getting dangerously close to a nearby geothermal plant (also totally likely), the end result was that we were extraordinarily lucky to have been there on Sunday night to see the lava. That might have been the last time for a non-resident to catch even the barest glimpse with their own eyes.

Gas mask at the ready

We did manage to see the lava fountains from one other vantage point. We took a helicopter tour.

When we booked the tour while still at Woodhaven, we were warned they weren’t allowed to fly right over the lava. We totally understood that. But we were still hoping to get a closer view than we did. Although I am absolutely glad we did the helicopter ride, I really wish we had been able to see a bit more. I think my expectations were a tad high. Thanks, national media and internet live feeds.

As of Saturday, there was a 5-mile restriction over the active fissures on air traffic aside from USGS and others taking official photographs. That radius is probably going to increase as more chemicals are released into the air (hello, laze!).

Thanks to a pretty good zoom, I was able to get a couple of photos of the lava fountains. We were also able to clearly see them with our naked eyes (no zooms or binoculars) which was breathtaking.

When I saw the first fountain…and then the line of them…I literally gasped and grabbed Rob’s arm in awe and excitement. The fountains were jumping into the air as if there were a lava-filled fire hose under the ground. They must have been enormous, to be so big at such a distance.

Laze.  Interestingly, even a local we
chatted with had never heard the term.
Now it will soon be a crossword favorite.

Fountains in Leilani Estates.

My best shot.  Click on it to see a larger image.  Man, those
fountains are huge!

The other spot we hung out in was out near the Kilauea main crater itself. We weren’t allowed to stop for 12 miles in the Volcanoes National Park, but there weren’t any signs saying how fast we had to go. So when nobody was around, Rob drove veeeerrrry sloooowly a few times so we could gawk at the cracks in the roads.

Although I only felt one small earthquake while we were there (a familiar shake from my life in California which I hadn’t felt in 15 years; it wasn’t big enough to wake Rob up), the ground there is in pretty constant motion to some degree. At least according to the seismographs. We noticed that the cracks in the road got wider just in the four days we were looking at them.

All of these cracks were new to this eruption.
The spray paint is so scientists can track movements.

These looked like stretchmarks in the asphalt.
They were noticeably thinner the day before.

We spent a fair amount of time on the golf course about 2 miles north of the active Kilauea crater. Yes, the course is still open and it is safe to play there as long as the trade winds are going. A shift in the wind direction makes life very different for everyone along the southern coast of the island.

We got super lucky on Sunday to catch a break in the rain and see an amazing plume of steam and ash billow out of the crater right in front of us. Judging from the locals joining us on the 10th tee as we all messed up the games of the golfers trying to play through, we got there just as the release was starting.

It was stunning how quiet it was. For only two miles away, I would expect that so much force would produce a sound of some sort. Instead, the only sounds were birds chirping, people whispering, and a guy’s drone buzzing over our heads.

Zoom in to see the drone's view.  It estimated
the plume was 4,000ft tall from the crater.

Again, there was a reverence as a scattered group of about 20 of us watched the white, grey, and steel grey clouds bloom and build and fade and bloom again. It was mesmerizing to watch clouds form…huge, puffy, cotton-ball clouds…right before my eyes. There was clearly lots of steam being released from the crater. It was beautiful.

We didn’t get hit with any ash; the wind was blowing the plume out across the ocean. The air did have a smell, though. It was a mixture of sulfur and smoked meat. Imagine eating a Hickory Farms Beef Stick in Yellowstone Park. It smelled like that.

At first I thought the smell was from the plume we were witnessing, but it was actually from the lava (and later, laze – gases emitted when lava hits the ocean) 25 miles away. This was confirmed on other visits to the golf course when I could still detect that meaty sulfur smell, but no plume was in sight.

My first view as we were walking (ok, trotting excitedly)
from the parking lot.

Yes, people were still playing golf during this little distraction.

It was fascinating watching the colors change as different
material was tossed out of the crater.

Proof we were there.

I have to admit, I'm starting to think I should call my
hair color "volcanic eruption gray"

Due to lots of clouds and moved check points, there wasn’t much volcanic stuff to see on Monday, so we took a slow, scenic drive back to Kona for our 10:10pm flight.

Once in Kona, we had time to relax in an oceanside bar, wander around a resort, and sneak a peak at a luau. It was jarring to see so many tourists. We saw lots of sunburns and selfie sticks and honeymooners idly playing with their new rings. We were not looking for stereotypical Hawaii on this trip, so it felt weird to finally see it. But it was comforting to see evidence that THAT Hawaiian experience can still be had even in the face of Madame Pele playing on the other side on the island.

The few hours yesterday in Kona was such a contrast to the being-amongst-the-locals vibe we felt in Hilo and the Puna District. In Pāhoa especially (the accessible town closest to the lava), we blissfully felt like oddball tourists. The people who joined us at The Check Point and the Transfer Station and farther west on the golf course were all mostly locals…equally as enthralled by the geologic wonders with the added tension of knowing people personally impacted by them.

For the most part, everyone was going about their normal daily lives…grocery shopping, attending kids’ soccer games, meeting friends for lunch, mowing their lawns, walking their dogs. Yes, there is a volcano erupting and lava spewing and new words like vog and laze are entering our national vocabulary. But all of that activity is very contained, both by geography and local authorities. Given the circumstances, I actually felt very safe during our four days stalking Mother Nature. I knew we could drive out of danger pretty quickly, and I saw with my own eyes that the local authorities and scientists have a very good handle on things in terms of keeping the general public safe.

View from our lovely patio dinner in Pāhoa.
"Isn't the glow from the lava beautiful?  Would you like
to see our wine list?"  What a surreal meal it was.

Rob and I were both keenly aware that on this visit we were being tourists in a natural disaster; that what we were so desperate to see was also destroying the livelihoods and homes of people around us. We tried to be very respectful and aware. We took our cues from locals we stood next to about how much excitement to express as we watched Madame Pele flex her muscles. We heeded road blocks and flashing signs without attempts to convince or talk our way past them. We thanked the police and military people we encountered for keeping us safe. We tried to stay out of the way while also peering with wide eyes. We dropped off our thankfully unused masks and respirators at a donation command center in Pāhoa much to the surprise and gratitude of the local guys wearing reflective vests…making me wish we had brought a suitcase’s worth.

We did our best to travel with aloha and stay classy, while also fulfilling a promise and one of Rob’s lifelong dreams. Cheers to being spontaneous!

Volcano Winery ~ Conveniently located just
up the road from the golf course.  Because
when volcanoes erupt, apparently we drink wine.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 months going on 3 years

I’ve been 50 for exactly three months as of today. I really didn’t expect to mark the occasion, but I found myself musing while on a fabulously sunny walk in my favorite park today. Fifty really does feel different, much to my surprise.

I remember being pretty excited when I turned 10 – the whole double-digits thing – but life otherwise didn’t shift much from being 9.

I don’t remember 20 feeling all that different from 19. I was still in college, I could still vote, and I was still an adult who couldn’t legally purchase an adult beverage.

Thirty definitely felt different. It gave me a little boost of confidence. Although I was still usually the youngest in the corporate meeting rooms at my job with a Really Big Oil Company, I felt like I had more credibility with a 3 in front of my age instead of a 2.

Forty happened at a jazz club in Portland with a few friends. Having no real specific life goals for 40, I deftly avoided any crises about what I was doing with my life. Instead, I quite enjoyed the mid-life milestone while at the same time not really noticing any significant changes for several years.

Fifty, however, has been a little weird. Although I was absolutely ready to embrace it and embark on this new decade with as much authenticity and acceptance as possible, there have already been a few notable surprises.

  • Until recently, I had no idea I live in a blissfully clueless pop culture bubble.
A few weeks ago, Rob and I were flipping channels and landed on a cable showing of “Austin Powers.” We had last seen the movie when it was in the theaters, so it had been a decade…or two.

The flick was quite amusing…even more so now than in 1997 due to its quaint no-longer-modern-day references. But what shocked me was what happened during the commercial breaks on this totally-new-to-me cable channel we had parked on.

Viceland is, in a word, raunchy. I’m really not a prude – I can hold my own in Cards Against Humanity – but I was dumbfounded by the profanity, nudity, and general ick in the name of self-expression of the ads for Viceland’s original programming.

Having never found a reason to visit millennial-targeted channels before, I had no idea such a world existed with such ease and apparent normality. As I sat on the couch with my jaw literally dropped, I suddenly felt every one of my 50 years…plus a few more.

“How is this a thing?!? Do parents know this stuff is on the most basic of cable packages?!? I don’t want to see this. Is this really what the world is now? It’s gross. Does this stuff actually sell? Is this the world 20-somethings really live in these days?”

It was very loving of Rob not to bring me a cardigan with tissues tucked in the sleeves.

  • More body parts are hurting and the pain takes longer to go away. In just the past three months, I have waited out – an average of about a week each – weird jaw pain, toe pain, and thumb pain. I’ve also noticed that my “good” knee now aches more often than my surgicalled ACL one. Fantastic.

  • My skin is changing without warning or permission. I have suddenly – since January – developed some sort of allergy to sunscreen and am amassing quite an array of barely used mineraled and chemicaled lotions in search of something that will protect my skin from both UV rays and itchy bumps. Ummm, thanks for the new hobby, Universe.

  • A friend about 5 years younger than me is about to become a grandma. As someone who doesn’t have kids, I only recently realized that I look like the mom of my 20-something friends instead of the older sister or aunt that I’ve fancied baristas have assumed. The idea of being old enough to be a grandma absolutely does not compute in this silver-topped head.

  • Several days ago, I was stunned to discover that holding a menu about two feet away from my eyes actually makes the tiny print more readable. I figure I’m about a year away from determining I need longer arms.

  • I’m really not in much of a hurry these days. For anything. Because for the most part, I don’t have the energy to rush. Today I was quite happily stuck behind a school bus, enjoying my music, beverage, and sunroof. It was rather relaxing and required little output from me. Why have I not realized the gift of slow school buses before?

  • I am increasingly mystified instead of inspired by advances in technology.
Last week, we upgraded our DVR so that we could choose a cheaper “a la carte” satellite package since we don’t watch that much TV. The upgrade came with a remote that is voice-activated. Meaning, I now must talk to my remote control to record a show (I just changed that from “tape a show” because 50-year-olds remember when shows were preserved on magnetic tape in VCRs and Betamaxes).

I was quite content setting up recordings the old way, using an on-screen keyboard and direction arrows on my remote. Even though now using my remote like a walkie-talkie is admittedly easier, I have been strangely resistant to having to change for change’s sake.

In related news, Rob just turned on a new cooking gadget in our kitchen using an app on his phone. He was about 5 miles from Woodhaven at the time.

The gadget is part of this newfangled concept of something called “The Internet of Things” (abbreviated IoT for the tech-savvy lingo hipsters). A friend in his early 50s recently tried to explain the concept to me, he being an HP engineer who has been tasked with understanding, incorporating, and engineering new products in this realm.

Jeff and I commiserated on wondering why such technology was really necessary, other than to keep him employed. I mean, wouldn’t an ON-OFF switch on the gadget work just as well as a mandatory phone app?

Nevertheless, the gadget does amazing things to steak so we bought one despite superfluously needing a cellphone to operate it. I’m grateful it didn’t require us to update our phones' operating system. We’re at least a year behind because the old iOS is working just fine on our ancient iPhones, thankyouverymuch.

It’s hard to say what the next few months of Being 50 have in store for me. It’s a tad concerning that in just three months I seem to have aged at least as many years. On the bright side, I've also noticed my memory isn't as sharp so maybe I'll eventually forget how old I actually am.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Perfect in the end

About fifteen years ago, give or take, I got on my mom’s case BIG TIME for not getting a colonoscopy yet. She had passed the magic screening age of 50 by several years and was (understandably) avoiding the whole messy subject. Taking a turn at being Jiminy Cricket, I laid the guilt on pretty thick.

Several months later, for Christmas, I opened one of the most strangely wonderful and hysterical gifts I have even been given. It was a small bound story…complete with color photos…about a Princess who loved her Queen very much. The Princess wanted the Queen to take care of herself. The Queen reluctantly realized the Princess was right and signed up for the royal treatment. A few benign polyps entered the storyline and then they all lived happily ever after. The story concluded with photos of my mom’s colon.

Since I had stood with my hands on my hips chastising my mom for not being timely with her colon care, I knew she had every right to wag her Queenly finger at me if I didn’t follow my own advice shortly after my 50th birthday.

With our travel schedule finally settled down for a bit, I went to the gastroenterologist’s office last Friday for a screening and to schedule my very first colonoscopy. Welcome to 50!! I had no idea how far out they schedule these things, so my mind swirled with panic when the medical assistant said, “How about Monday?”

“You mean in three days!?”


Deciding the less time I had to fret about the infamous prep, the better, I snagged today’s 11:00am appointment. I left the tummy doctor’s office with a "bowel prep" prescription, two pages of instructions, a shopping list, and a reluctant promise to return in three days with a well-prepared colon.

When Rob went through this blow-out of an adventure two years ago (a benefit of having a slightly older spouse), I remember three things:

First, he nearly gagged on the second bottle of medical Drano he had to drink to clear his plumbing.

Second, he was pretty entertaining when he came out of anesthesia.

Third, with only a hint of sarcasm, he proclaimed, “Next time I have to do this, I’m buying a padded toilet seat.”

And so I headed off to Target, Walmart, and Walgreens for colonoscopy prep provisions. Yay 50!

I scoured the snack and frozen treat shelves for Jell-O packs and popsicles in colors other than the prohibited, stain-laden red, blue, and purple (all the good flavors). Lime Jell-O and non-redish purply popsicles not bearing fruit bits are harder to procure than one might think. Staring blankly at so many boxes featuring cherry treats, it occurred to me that there might be a niche market for specialized boxes of “Colonopsicles” in lime, orange, pineapple, and lemon flavors. You’re welcome, Popsicle® Marketing people.

As I headed to the checkout in Target with my bottle of magnesium citrate, padded toilet seat, and green popsicles, I decided I wasn’t in the mood for potential conversations or commiserations about my unique but telling set of acquisitions. Thank goodness for self-checks.

Note:  The butterscotch pudding was not allowed.  I got confused
with the Soft Foods Diet I was on last fall for a dental surgery.
This aging thing is a BLAST!

Saturday I ate myself silly. Pastrami, pizza, cake, red wine. It was my last hurrah. Plus I knew none of it was going to be allowed to hang out for long, so I quite enjoyed my little binge party.

On Sunday, I was restricted to a clear liquid diet. Broth, Jell-O, popsicles, tea, water. So very boring. So very hungry. Do you know how many TV ads and Facebook posts involve images of food? So very lots.

I was so famished, I started salivating when a friend sent me a text with a hamburger emoji, encouraging me to keep my eye on the juicy prize. Rob was kind enough to eat his lasagna and garlic bread leftovers quietly when I wasn’t watching. But I was watching.

In my desperation, inspiration hit. White wine and a vodka tonic are both VERY clear liquids! Cheers to that! WHOO HOO! But a more careful reading of my pre-op instructions clearly stated alcohol was a no-no. BOO!

Sunday night at 7:00pm the real fun began.

I had to drink two bottles of a prescription strength laxative, twelve hours apart. The two hours after each of those bottles were the ones everyone warns about, with vague yet panic-inducing detail. The hours of “it’s hard to imagine where all that came from” and “just keep the fan running” and “bring lots of reading material.”

The first sip of the clear concoction last night wasn’t too bad. It was sort of a salty cherry flavor. It would have been better if it had been carbonated. And perhaps with a splash of vodka.

The second sip, I was transported back to the kitchen in our apartment in Montana when I was a kid. Both winters there, I had strep throat any week I didn’t have tonsillitis. The flavor of the laxative was far too reminiscent of the pink, liquid penicillin I had to pound as a kid. Those weren’t great memories. It wasn’t long before I decided to test the theory that you can’t taste things if you plug your nose.

Verdict:  Plugging your nose does indeed take a
lot of icky flavor away!  However, it is very hard
to drink without breathing through one's nose.
The choice was quick and icky or slow and tasteless.
I'm impatient enough I eventually released my nose.

I will spare you the finer details of the rest of the evening. Suffice it to say, I was quite thankful for the squishy seat and portable electronic devices. Also, as I had Norovirus a number of years ago, I will say that colonoscopy prep is better than that gastrointestinal Sophie’s choice. The colon cleansing isn’t crampy and you are only dealing with one exit strategy. Always looking for silver linings.

I managed to mostly sleep through the night last night. I had one urgent wake-up at about 2:30am that was quickly resolved. When the alarm went off at 6:45am for my second bottle and foray into the bathroom, I was in the middle of a dream about eating a toasted ham and cheese sandwich.

I downed this morning’s 16oz of salted cherry ick in a matter of a few short minutes by pretending I was on the “Amazing Race.” Rob and I are big fans of the show and watch as if we were contestants. He gets all the physical challenges, we always pick puzzles over might, and I am in charge of all heights and eating weird stuff. I nailed this morning’s challenge.

By the time we were ready to head to the doctor’s office this morning, I was completely caught up on social media, had educated myself on a local bond measure, discovered a shop in Walla Walla that sells furniture made out of wine barrels, mused about a wildflower hike in the Columbia Gorge, and learned quite a lot about the burgeoning (legal) cannabis industry in Oregon. So much time to read!

My appointment this morning was super fast. I spent more time getting prepped and coming out of anesthesia than I spent in the OR. I think the whole exploration took about 15 minutes…with the accompaniment of the best play list I’ve ever heard in an OR. When I drifted off to sleep, I was head dancing to “I Would Walk 500 Miles” by The Proclaimers. It’s so fun to have doctors the same age as you!

Back in recovery, I was hoping for good news. Although I long ago learned I cannot think my way to good health, and my body really is in charge of such things, I must admit I felt a swell of “A+ gold star” pride when the nurse proclaimed: “You have a perfect colon!” No polyps to biopsy, no follow-ups, no need to come back for another ten years. WHOO THE HOO!!!

I was escorted out the door with color photos of my perfect colon, a chocolate croissant, and well wishes for the highly imminent Tillamook Cheeseburger, Mint Oreo Milkshake, and Rosemary fries. I might have mentioned them a few times to the nursing staff.

This afternoon, after waking up from my food coma, I sent a text to the Queen and King with celebrations of perfection and color photos to prove it.

“Congratulations!!” replied the Queen. “Thank you for all the color photos.”

“Wonderful!!” replied the King. “Glad everything came out alright.”

“That was last night!” replied the Princess.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Under the Sea

I have long been afraid of the water. Specifically deep water, meaning anything deeper than my rib cage. I have no idea why. Past-life enthusiasts would probably tell me I drowned a few centuries ago, given my completely irrational fear of being submerged in pools, lakes, oceans, bathtubs… Even those deep blue pages in atlases showing the terrain of the ocean floor produce waves of anxiety. Seriously.

Over the years I have very intentionally put myself in watery situations in an attempt to conquer my aquaphobia. I have gone on cruises, I have taken boat rides, I have vacationed in beach-side rentals.

Determined not to miss out on the thrill of living, I have hyperventilated and worn life vests while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and the Sea of Cortez. The fishies are so very beautiful, as long as they stay away from me. I’m afraid of them, too.

Last year, when Rob and I were on a Caribbean cruise snorkel excursion, I got to use an almost brand-new snorkel and mask. I was amazed that hardly any water seeped into my mask or mouthpiece, that I didn’t have to resurface frequently to flail about while trying to clear everything out. I honestly thought that anxiety-ridden flail-and-clear thing was just part of snorkeling. Turns out it’s just part of snorkeling with well-used rental equipment.

This new insight was a game changer.

And so, with a March Maui trip on the horizon, Rob got me a Christmas gift certificate for the local dive shop (we have just one --- which is different from the local dive bar of which we have many). When I went to go choose my snorkel and mask, I was delighted to learn that masks come in sizes. Sizes! Meaning the mask would actually fit my face! WHOO HOO!

Hoping for something pink, yellow, or neon orange such that I could be easily located and potentially rescued while flailing and hyperventilating, I was a bit disappointed that my snorkel color options were blue. A nice dark blue to apparently blend into the oceanic surroundings. I guess when you’re the only game in town you get to be Henry Ford. Boo.

Nevertheless, I was totally stoked and rather astonished to proudly possess my very own snorkeling equipment. Me, who is supposedly terrified of the ocean and all creatures great and small that inhabit it.

We packed the mask and breather thingy in our suitcase and hauled them to Maui last week for their inaugural use in the Ka’anapali waters. Spoiler alert: they were awesome!

I feel pretty bad-ass in my surfer girl swim shirt, too.
And no, I shall never ever surf.

It took Rob and me a few days to discern the best snorkel spot. Maui was new to us, so we asked lots of locals and consulted several guidebooks.

Although the beach right in front our resort was rated the best snorkel venue on the island, it was completely open ocean. No exposed reefs or natural barriers to give me a cozy sense of structure and protection.

Another recommendation was called Baby Beach. While offering very minimal waves and water you could stand up in, it was also extraordinarily popular with young families and their Little Swimmers®.

“Ummm….I don’t want to snorkel here.”

“Why not? It looks pretty safe. Look at all the kids.”

“Too many bodily fluids.”

Come on, I know the ocean is big but I can’t be the only one who thinks of these things. Can I? Ewww.

We finally settled on Black Rock. It was a snuggly beach right up against a rock...that a hotel chain had incorporated into its beachy landscape. There were lots of people snorkeling, which gave me a sense of safety in numbers. The rock also promised to be a good fish attractant.

We snorkeled there two days in a row. It really was a great spot. My mask stayed well-suctioned and my mouthpiece never filled with salty water. WHO KNEW!?!

We got to see some of the same types of fish we are used to seeing in Kauai. The flat yellow ones, the striped ones with wispy fins, the zippy zebra ones, the long pointy silver ones, my favorite pink and turquoise rainbow trouty ones. I’m clearly not an ichthyologist. Nevertheless, seeing those old nameless fishy friends gave me great comfort.

We also got to meet some new sea friends. Sort of.

Our arrival was announced by some bright yellow trumpetfish. We also spotted a totally camouflaged flounder who looked entirely like sand and nothing like the adorable yellow and blue guy in “The Little Mermaid.”

I got stared down by a couple of cuttlefish. I mean totally stared down. They were only about the size of my hand but they were fearless. I was not. Twice I tried to intimidate the cuttles by glaring into their buggy, disproportionately large, glassy eyes. Twice I got freaked out as they arrogantly fringed closer to my mask and made me flail out of their way in defeat. Mollusks are scary, man!

But not as scary as sea turtles.

We had seen turtles in Kauai. From the land and from a distance. Very graceful, peaceful creatures when viewed from above.

We had some warning that there were some sea turtles floating around Black Rock. The crowd of tourists lining the shore with waterproof cameras and shrieks of “TURTLE!!!” was our first clue.

While I wanted to see a turtle while snorkeling, I wanted to see it over there. In the distance. Going the other way. I wanted to admire it from afar, as I like to enjoy most aquatic life.

Rob and I were snorkeling about, holding hands as we do to give us both piece of mind (it’s easier for Rob to know where his trepidatious wife is if she’s hanging onto him). Rob squeezed my hand and pointed ahead of us with his other, signaling that something noteworthy was in sight.

Gradually coming into focus in the sandy water was a sea turtle, heading right towards me. Its shell was about the size of an XL pizza pan. Not a dainty sea creature.

As the turtle got closer, I noticed its mouth…which was opening and closing…was unexpectedly large and had some impressively pointy teeth in it. Pretty certain the turtle was planning to eat me, I rather gracefully slid down Rob’s leg and climbed onto his back. Within seconds, Rob and I were tandem snorkeling…with no warning to Rob that we were transitioning to this new approach.

I could hear Rob snorkel laughing as the turtle glided past us, me deftly clinging to Rob’s other leg now. To anyone watching…including the turtle…I prefer to think it merely looked like I was courteously giving the turtle the right-of-way and not cowering in terror on Rob.

Spinning around, we watched the turtle slowly soar away from us. Instead of paddling like I was expecting, its front flippers flapped up and down to propel forward through the water, looking a lot like Sister Bertrille from “The Flying Nun.” It was quite endearing, really, once I knew I was no longer being eyed as turtle kibble.

Imagine a greenish yellow habit and Sally Field
opening and closing her mouth and I swear...sea turtle.

We saw another turtle the next day. Rob was better prepared for tandem snorkeling this time. The second turtle was a bit larger, however, more like a VW Beetle. I casually signaled its location to the camera-ready tourists on the beach by flailing, flopping, and thrashing about in the water to get out of its way. There might have been an accusation or two of “IT’S STALKING ME!” For not being a strong swimmer, it really was quite impressive how quickly I got to the other side of the beach.

The rest of our snorkel adventure was peaceful and uneventful, save for the constant need to clear my long gray hair from in front of my mask. I am absolutely not used to having longish hair on my head, so I was completely unprepared with any means of keeping it held back.

Back home, I acquired a 4-pack of black headbands like what fashionable teen soccer girls wear. I am embarrassed to say how long it took me to find the headbands in Walgreens. I don’t do hair accessories; I don’t even own a comb or brush. I kept trying to figure out why “Long” headbands were the size of bracelets. I eventually moved to another section with long headbands that were actually long and not ones described by their holding power. Goodness, girl hair is confusing.

It took me far too long to figure out there's a
grippy side and a "pretty" side to the band.
Oy, how do you girls do this??

One of our last purchases in Maui was a pink flowered cinch bag that has officially been deemed My Snorkel Bag. It has my headbands in it, too. I’m quite tickled that I have such a bag and am already musing about other non-turtle locations I might take it to.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Finding comfort in a dog head

Back in November, my aunt and I were comparing schedules to try to find a good date to officially celebrate my grandma’s life and inter her ashes in a San Francisco cemetery with my grandpa. I looked at the February calendar.

“What do you think about doing Grandma’s Celebration of Life on 10 Feb? Too weird or too perfect?” I texted to my aunt. She is retired military so I try to remember to talk dates in her language.

“Too karma [with a hug emoji]” she replied. And so the decision was made.

On February 10, 1976 my grandpa – my aunt’s dad and Grandma’s husband – died of a sudden and totally unexpected heart attack. I had just turned 8 and Linda was just a couple weeks away from turning 16. Although she was twice my age at the time, in reality we were both just kids.

The next hours and days were a blurry whirlwind of emotion and action. My aunt and grandma were in California. My parents and I were living in Montana. Within hours I was on a plane with my parents, taking a film roll's worth of photos of the mesmerizing clouds. I wondered if that was where Grandpa was now.

Other somewhat distant relatives trickled in from Michigan. It seemed like none of them had ever been to California before, so their funeral trip had an undertone of vacation. At least that what felt like to my wide-eyed 8-year-old self who had no idea what grieving looked like.

I can’t quite remember the order of events – it’s been 42 years and I was in second grade – but I think we all gathered in San Francisco a day or two before Grandpa’s funeral. Enough time for some awkward sightseeing.

It’s perfectly natural that my dad was the tour guide. I have no idea if he was appointed or if he simply saw a void and filled it. Either way, he lead a small caravan of family around the streets of San Francisco one foggy February night.

I’m sure we hit the highlights. The Golden Gate Bridge must have been visible, and we had to have twisted and turned down Lombard.

I vividly remember our tour of Chinatown. It was a very busy night, probably in anticipation of the Chinese New Year now that I think about it. It was loud and lively, with people smushed together on all the narrow sidewalks as my dad captained my grandma’s enormous 1970s white Pontiac. I was sitting on the starboard side on my mom’s lap…because you could live on the edge like that in 1976.

I can’t remember if my dad was doing anything other than steering, but suddenly the windshield wipers went haywire and the horn started blaring. Blaring without stop. A constant wail of a hearty, American-made 1970s car horn.

Everyone in Chinatown stopped and stared. Literally everyone, at least as far as I was concerned. People were pointing, laughing, my dad pushing buttons and flipping switches. Being eight, I was instantly mortified. I deftly slid off my mom’s lap into the footwell and tangled myself up in her feet. I was so embarrassed to have everyone looking at us!

I hung out with my mom’s shoes for quite a while. My dad kept driving. The horn kept blaring. I was horrified.

At some point a motorcycle cop entered the story. I’m guessing the horn summoned him. Adult conversations about messed up electrical systems happened. Then all I knew was our tour caravan was heading back to the hotel south of the city, now with a police escort.

But believe it or not, that was not the part of the evening that became a family story. No, that honor goes to the Doggie Diner.

The Doggie Diner was a small, Bay Area fast-food chain that started in 1949 (apparently closing for good in 1986). It specialized in hot dogs, as one might surmise. I am dumbfounded I never ate there. As a kid I was a ridiculously picky eater (hard to fathom now). Pretty much the only thing I would eat was hot dogs. I was a huge fan of Der Weinerschnitzel…and very brand loyal…so it is quite possible I refused to try The Doggie Diner even if offered. Silly little girl.

I therefore can not speak to the quality of the Doggie’s fare, but I can tell you that the Diners had by far the best signage EVER. Every Doggie Diner was capped by a 7-foot fiberglass weinerdog wearing a chef’s hat and bowtie. It was adorable if not a little creepy.

I’m not sure where we were heading during that portion of the tour that night, but we were out on 19th Avenue near San Francisco State. We might have been heading to the Golden Gate Bridge or Golden Gate Park. Or at least trying to.

When we passed the Doggie Diner on the corner of 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra, I was very excited and made sure everyone in the car admired the huge dog head.

A couple of minutes later, we saw another dog head. WOW! I had no idea there was another diner so close! So excited!

Then a few minutes later, another dog head! And then another!

The memories of an 8-year-old have their own reality, but I am going to say we passed at least four or five Doggie Diners that night. Except that, well, we didn’t.

My dad, who typically has a keen sense of direction, somehow got twisted around by the one-way streets and opaque fog banks. We actually circled the same San Francisco block multiple times, with the same Doggie Diner head first greeting us then mocking us with wide-eyed judgement on each drive-by.

I remember it being confusing at first. And then frustrating. And then, with the raw emotion of a funeral looming the next day, belly-achingly hysterical. The entire car was relieved to be crying with joy instead of despair as we circled that enormous glowing dog head again and again and again.

Today, after seeing the patch of grass tamped back down in front of Grandpa’s headstone which Grandma will now share, I asked Rob if we could take a little detour on our way to the airport.

It was a sparklingly gorgeous San Francisco day. No chance of getting lost in the fog this time.

Mr. Google had already told me that the Doggie Diner on 19th Avenue was long gone.

However, in true San Francisco fashion, the head from the very last Doggie Diner was saved and lovingly restored. Not only does it have a commemorative plaque, the head is an official San Francisco Landmark (no. 254) described as “…an excellent example of a three-dimensional iconic and flamboyant roadside commercial sign and is unique and rare in design.” Confirming its credibility, it is also a landmark on Google maps.

The past few days have been a wonderous swirl of emotions as we honored, remembered, celebrated, and released Grandma to her final resting place. It was a weekend of reminiscing and tears, with each other and with our own thoughts. For each of us, the oddest things would jog a memory or tears or smiles of gratitude and recognition.

Thanks for the memories, Doggie Diner Head. You were just what I needed today.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Fully disembarked

We’ve been home for about four days now. This morning Rob finally proclaimed himself feeling human again. He’s out at his favorite burrito place getting lunch so that’s as official as it gets that he’s back to his normal routine.

I probably have a couple more days before I’m fully “back.” I keep getting sleepy at about 9:00pm, which is ridiculous for this diehard night owl.

I also brought home an unwanted souvenir. I’m on my second tube of hydrocortisone cream and my rash is finally doing much better. It started in Montevideo (about 3 days before the end of our cruise). At first I thought it was a heat rash, even though it really wasn’t hot or humid enough to warrant that diagnosis. I finally concluded that expired laundry detergent was the culprit. Yes, I have a history with out-of-date products.

I have to admit, I can’t actually remember when I bought the two travel packets of liquid Tide that I tucked in our suitcase. At least three...but more likely five...years ago if I’m willing to risk embarrassment.

Truth be told, it didn’t look quite as vibrantly blue when I was squeezing it into the washer tub in the ship’s laundry. Maybe a tinge of greenish brown to it?? Seven loads of hot water laundry later, I have hopefully removed all traces of the irritating, ancient Tide. I was also relieved to get home and have non-Tided clothes to choose from. So, lesson learned: if I must do laundry on vacation, treat myself to new detergent.

Rashes aside, as I reflect on our trip, I continue to be amazed that we went. When Rob and I first got married, he had absolutely no interest in international travel. Twenty-seven years and several continents later, he still gets a little twitchy when I start musing about across-oceans places I’d love to visit. But Rob also now tells me he appreciates me dragging him out of his domestic comfort zone now and then. I'm very grateful that he's willing to explore with me.

Cruising has been a huge discovery for us. It allows the comfort of an established, English-speaking home base that sails from unfamiliarity to unfamiliarity. And we’ve learned how to be true to our introverted selves while traveling with 3,000 sea buddies. Top tip: you can request a “table for two, no sharing” in the dining rooms. Score!

This particular cruise had a notably different vibe. The passengers were much more international than any other cruise I have been on, including the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. We met folks from Croatia, France, Holland, Canada, Australia, Wales, England… (we didn’t always request a table for two).

We didn’t meet anyone from the Pacific Northwest, although it was crazy how many people had a young relative who lives in Portland. I felt very hip. Oddly, the place we met the most passengers from was…Ohio. All I can figure is the South America Tourism Board targeted Cleveland, and it worked wonders.

This cruise was also the first time all ship-wide announcements were made in two languages (English and Spanish). I gotta say, after 32 hours of travel, having to sit through an insanely long bilingual safety drill that first day was almost unbearable. We eventually got used to tuning out the second version of any announcement, but it did make for some long PA chatter at times.

We also noticed that despite us both now being in our 50s, we were among the younger passengers. There was a gaggle of about a dozen teens that clung to each other, but otherwise most folks were in their 60s and 70s. I have never seen so many canes on a cruise before, and that only increased as the rough waters bumped folks around a bit.

A lot of passengers were very frequent cruisers, too. You can tell a Princess passenger’s status by the color of their cruise card and their name plate outside their cabin. There were more people in the most fancypants “I live to cruise” Elite category than I have ever seen. And very few (like less than 10 that I saw) “first time cruising with Princess” badges. Please note: I absolutely aspire to that “Live to Cruise” category, in large part for the perk of free laundry any old time you want. Presumably without rashes.

It will come as a surprise to nobody that fins-up, my most favorite part of the trip was seeing penguins. Oh my gosh, the sheer joy and delight of that afternoon in Bluff Cove will forever be a cherished memory. I wish I could bottle the emotions of that day; it was so full of life and enchantment and appreciation and wonder. It could not have been more perfect. That afternoon alone was worth everything it took to get there.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the weather. We really had fantastic weather the entire time. It was sunny and warm. It was howling and rough. It was cold and biting. I packed for all seasons and wore just about everything I brought. I loved that the seas were rough around Cape Horn. If it had been a placid crossing, both Rob and I would have been enormously disappointed.

I never did get used to it being summer down there. Although we have been in warm, sunny places in the winter before, the common references to kids being on summer break and families being on vacation made it clear that January there is our July. Santa Claus in shorts and a tank top just seems wrong.

And so we are back home, where trees are dormant, leaves are mulching, and sandals are ill-advised. We have no idea where our next cruise or “big trip” will take us. Lots of things are being dreamed about and discussed; something will eventually be planned. Because the world is big and awaits discovery, and free laundry won’t happen by itself.